This is the second post of our three-part series (I, IIa, IIb, IIc, III) looking at the structure of the ancient Greek polis. Last week we looked at how the Greeks understood the component parts of a polis, so this week we’re going to look at how those parts were governed.
The Greek term for the structure of a polis government was its politeia (πολιτεία), a which would could mean the government (the way we would say ‘the state’) or the structure of that government (it’s ‘constitution’) or the rights and conditions of the citizenry (in the sense of ‘citizenship’); as with the many meanings of polis, the many meanings of politeia all shade into each other and are understood as blended.
Because this week we’re interested in the politeia of a polis, that’s going to mean we’re mostly focused on the politai, the citizens, who we discussed last time as one of the key building blocks of the polis. Now, as we noted last time, its important to keep in mind that the politai are not all of the people in the polis or indeed even very many of them: women, children, resident foreigners, native members of non-citizen free underclasses and slaves were all set outside the politai and often had no means of gaining entrance. We’re going to talk about all of those folks in more depth in the third part, where we’ll look at the status layer-cake of polis society. But for now I just want to note that all of those people are there, even if they won’t figure very prominently in this discussion of the structures of polis government.
Now we’ll explore this question of how a polis was governed in four parts (two in part A this week and two in part B next week): first laying out the standard elements of a polis constitution, which as we’ll discuss were surprisingly similar from one polis to the next. Then we’ll deal with variations in how those elements are structured, which the Greeks understood to define the differences in the three kinds of constitution that a polis might normally have: oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. Then in part B we’ll look at what sort of magistrates a polis might have and what their jobs might be as well as the structure of the legal system a polis might have.
THis is going to mean this week that we’re discussing the ‘constitutions’ of poleis, but I want to be really clear here at the start that these are almost never written constitutions. So when I say ‘constitution’ below, understand that we mean this in the broad sense of ‘the actual makeup of the state’s institutions’ rather than in the narrow sense of ‘a formal set of instructions for the running of the state.’ Some poleis did actually have the latter (the oldest we have that I know of is a constitution established by Ptolemy I Soter for Kyrene in 322; the fact that this is a constitution dictated by a king to a subordinated polis should signal how odd it is), but they seem to have been very rare.
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Elements of the Politeia
One of the truly fascinating things about the Greek polis is that while we are talking about more than a thousand tiny, (mostly) independent little states, nearly all poleis share the same basic organs of government. What makes poleis governments different are not that they have radically different institutions but rather how those institutions relate to each other, how their members are selected, and the powers they have. In particular, almost every polis government is made up of 1) an assembly (ἐκκλησία, ekklesia) of all the politai, 2) a smaller council (βουλή, boule or γερουσία, gerousia) of selected politai, 3) a set of executive magistrates (ἄρχοντες, archontes, usually Anglicized as archons) who carry out the day-to-day functions of the state and 4) law courts (δικαστήρια, dikasteria) in which serious disputes are settled, typically by juries composed of the politai. These institutions may be somewhat differently structured or have different names in different places, but the Greeks had no problem recognizing them in most poleis.
We can start with the ekklesia. As noted, it was notionally an assembly of all of the politai, but recall that this definition might be more narrow than you expect: even in democratic poleis, citizenship was typically limited to the children of citizens with no regular means for resident foreigners to gain it. In oligarchic poleis it might be even more restricted, with a wealth requirement also limiting the size of the ekklesia. In most poleis the ekklesia seems to have met in the agora, but larger poleis might need a designated space for it to meet, such as the Athenian Pnyx; the Spartan ekklesia (sometimes still referred to as the apella) met in a building called the Scias which Pausanias (writing in the second century AD) supposes to have been built in the sixth century BC by Theodorus of Samos.
Meetings of an ekklesia usually occurred on a regular schedule (once a month seems to have been fairly common); obviously so large a body could not have been a standing body. An ekklesia also generally didn’t set its own agenda, but rather voted (and perhaps debated) issues put before it either by the boule or the magistrates. Nevertheless the ekklesia usually had at least the notional final say over new laws (including honorary decrees and extraordinary grants of citizenship) and the issues of war or peace; they also very frequently elected magistrates. In this sense, even in oligarchies or tyrannies, notionally it was the ekklesia which was the sovereign, supreme authority from which the powers of all other bodies derived, though of course in practice an ekklesia might be much weaker than this. Finally, in some cases the ekklesia could function as a whole as a sort of high court; in Athens the ekklesia could try cases of certain high crimes under a procedure known as eisangelia.2
That brings us to the council and these come in two major types; a polis may or may not have both types but they almost always have one. The first type, a boule (lit, “council”) is a relatively large body, often of around 500 citizens drawn from the assembly. Alternately, a gerousia (lit: ‘elders,’ often translated as ‘senate,’ which is a very similar Latin word deriving from the Latin word for elder, senex) would often be much smaller (e.g. 30 men in Sparta, 100 in Kyrene). The selection between these two bodies also often differ substantially: a boule often functions as a cross-cut of the ekklesia, with members selected by lot from that larger body to act as a sort of directing board for the larger and more unwieldy ekklesia. By contrast, members of a gerousia are often elected, either directly or because they achieve membership by virtue of having held a magistracy; this might be further compounded by restricting magistracies to specific families which would then in turn restrict the gerousia to specific families.3
The main job of both of these sorts of councils was to act as a sort of steering committee for the assembly: councils often met more frequently and had the job of setting the assembly’s agenda, including drafting legislation for it to vote on (this task is known as proboulesis and the draft legislation a probouleuma, the pro- prefix here meaning ‘before’); a major difference between constitutions is if the ekklesia can modify that agenda or draft legislation or if it must merely vote yes or no. In some cases, a council might also sit as a court. Athens had a gerousia-style council of ex-magistrates, the Areopagus, which was stripped of nearly all of its power in the reforms that created the Athenian democracy, but it remained a court that tried serious crimes, particularly murder. Likewise, the Spartan gerousia functioned as a high court which could even try the two hereditary Spartan kings. We’re often very poorly informed about how powers would be balanced in systems that had both a larger boule-style council and a smaller gerousia-style Senate (except in Athens, where we can chart this fairly clearly), but it wasn’t that uncommon; Kyrene had both a 500-person boule chosen by lot and a 101-person gerousia elected for life by the ekklesia (both having the requirement that those serving be older than 50).4
The decisions of these bodies (the assembly and council or councils) are then carried out in practice a bunch of executive officers scholars will collectively call magistrates; the most important of these fellows in a Greek polis were often called archons (lit: ‘leader’), but there are a bewildering array of these positions: strategoi (generals), Boiotarches (generals, but Boiotian), ephors (the major Spartan magistrates), kosmoi (their matching counterparts in Crete), thesmothetai (Athenian judicial officials) and an absolute mess of minor magistrates we’ll get to in a moment. The Greeks tended to understand (Aristotle says this explicitly) that these archons took over the powers originally held by kings, breaking them up into smaller units; the presence of archons whose job was to fill-in for the non-existent king in religious functions (the archon basileus or ‘king archon’ in Athens) supports that notion.
The most important magistrates tend to be charged with organizing and leading the military, performing key religious duties associated with the state and managing the court system. This last duty is one that bears some explaining because we are used to judges who set trial dates and oversee jury selection, but who also have the job of explaining law to the jury and acting as the ‘referee’ in court proceedings and who may even deliver judgements or set sentences. The role of ancient judicial magistrates is typically much more restricted; at some early point they held the power to hear disputes and make judgements but by the time we can observe these systems, the power to make judgements (at least in the most serious cases) has passed to juries, the ekklesia or one or another form of council. Judicial officials were thus more organizers than judges; they heard complaints and then directed the case to the relevant body (a public court with a jury (or the council or the assembly) for serious crimes, but there was also typically a system of arbitration to resolve less serious disputes more quickly).
Crucially it is worth noting that the magistrates here all have relatively small areas of authority; they are not ‘general’ magistrates the way the US President is or the Roman consul was; you usually have one group of guys running the courts and another group of guys running the army and this fellow over here whose job is to do some religious rituals and these guys over here who regulate the market and so on. Magistrates are also generally organized as boards of multiple individuals rather than singular, powerful figures (and this tends to be more true the more powerful and important the magistracy): thus Sparta has five ephors, Athens has ten strategoi and the Boiotians have seven Boiotarchs.5
These magistrates were also not generally experts nor did they have any particular training. Terms of service were typically very short, usually just a single year, and outside of military officials it was very unusual for these to be offices one held more than once. Indeed, in democracies, the archons might even be selected at random (by lot) from the politai. That means your market official or your court-organizers are not going to have any particular legal or judicial experience in most cases and for a lot of ancient governments (this goes for the Roman Republic too) that was generally thought to be mostly fine; these jobs weren’t usually complex enough to require special expertise. As noted, the exception to this rule were generals, who were almost always elected officials (except in Sparta, where this job fell typically to the two hereditary kings) and could generally serve multiple years in succession as long as they kept getting elected.
Putting that all together again: the ekklesia (‘assembly’) votes to confirm the laws and actions proposed by a council (either a boule of select members of the ekklesia or a gerousia of elders or former magistrates). Those actions are then carried out by the magistrates, executive officials with specific, narrow authority over one or a few matters in the state, either elected by the ekklesia or selected by lot to serve short terms.
And that’s it. If you were expecting a whole bunch of professional administrators or large bureaucracies, you are bound to be disappointed: even the largest of these states have very little of that. The closest we get are public slaves – that is, enslaved workers owned by the state – called demosioi (lit: ‘those of [owned by] the demos‘), but these enslaved workers mostly did physical laboring tasks. We can see them most clearly in Athens, where there were perhaps one or two thousand demosioi – keep in mind that Athens was a huge and very wealthy polis, so that is an absolute upper limit.6 In Athens these folks fit into four big groups (as Paulin Ismard lays out neatly): public craft-workers (including workers in the public mint), a body of enslaved Scythian archers Athens used as a police force to keep order in the assembly and markets, enslaved workers assisting the priests managing various temples and finally a relatively small body of enslaved administrative assistants to the magistrates (scribes, archivists, secretaries, etc.). As you can see a subset of these enslaved workers were specialists since doing things like detecting fake coins, minting new ones, performing the duties of a clerk or accounting officer, since the existing political system provided very little in the way of available expertise. These enslaved workers seem almost always to be operating under the direct supervision of an elected magistrate and the Athenian law which ordered the market supervisors in Athens to “beat him [the coin tester] with fifty lashes” if “the tester does not sit at his post or if he does not test according to the law,” gives us a sense of the subordinated role they played despite their expertise.7 And again, that’s in Athens, which is going to have more demosioi than anywhere else on account of its size and wealth.
Different kinds of Politeia
But just because all Greek poleis had the same basic set of governing institutions does not mean they were all the same. Instead, the differences in polis government provide an excellent example above how relatively small changes in a government can almost entirely change its nature. Indeed, the Greeks understood all poleis governments as conforming essentially to one of three basic types: democracy (δημοκρατία, rule by the demos), oligarchy (ὀλιγαρχία, rule by the few) or tyranny (τυραννία, rule by a τύραννος, a tyrant), though pedantic philosopher types like Aristotle would increase the count to six (to add ‘corrupted’ forms of each) and there was also the notion of a ‘mixed’ constitution sitting somewhere between democracy and oligarchy.
But if all of these poleis had the same basic governing institutions, what made an oligarchy different from a democracy or a tyranny? By and large the difference isn’t adding or removing major elements of the government, but changing who is eligible for them and how they relate to each other.
Let’s start with eligibility. I don’t want to get too bogged down in the development of particular poleis (by which I mean Athens, which by far the best attested)8 but a major part of the emergence of democracy in the Greek polis was the widening of civic participation to include a broader range of the politai at more levels of power. That both meant bringing poor citizens who under older, more oligarchic constitutions wouldn’t have been admitted even to the assembly in, but it also meant opening more powerful offices to poorer members of the politai.
Oligarchies worked, as you might imagine, in exactly the opposite way. Often membership in the ekklesia was limited by wealth. A mild form of this sort of restriction which is quite prominent in our sources (particularly Aristotle) is the ‘hoplite polis‘ (in German, the Hoplitenpoliteia) where political participation was limited to the class of farmer with enough wealth to afford their own equipment to fight as hoplites in the phalanx (perhaps something like a third to half of the politai). This form of polis has often been taken as a sort of ‘standard’ polis, particularly a standard early form of oligarchic polis out of which more democratic forms might evolve. But, as Matthew Simonton has recently noted, true Hoplitenpoliteia are actually pretty rare in the historical record. When we see a politeia restricted, it is often much more narrowly constrained than this. For instance, in 411 a coup in Athens overthrows the democracy and attempts to instate an oligarchic government with five thousand Athenians able to form the ekklesia, but this must have been less than half of the hoplite class; Athens had fielded 9,000 hoplites at Marathon in 490 BC and the sense we get from the sources is that the Athenian citizen body had grown in size and wealth since then (with perhaps 50,000 citizens total). Instead, actual oligarchies often seem to have been quite a bit narrower; the evidence doesn’t really allow a firm quantification, but one should probably be thinking a quarter or less of the free male population being admitted to full civic participation.
Alternately, an oligarchy might be structured so that specific parts of the government were restricted. The most closed sorts of oligarchies might, for instance, restrict specific offices to a handful of eligible families. We’re told by Aristotle that the chief magistrates on Crete, the kosmoi (their equivalents of the Spartan ephors) were elected from a closed group of households, while the Cretan gerousia was composed entirely of ex-kosmoi (Arist. Pol. 2.1272a). Thus despite all of the citizens being admitted into the Cretan ekklesia, Aristotle concludes that the system is in fact a δυναστεία (dunasteia), the word that gives us the modern ‘dynasty’ but here means something like ‘hereditary oligarchy,’9 because enough of the power was wielded by offices which were limited not merely by wealth but in Crete’s case to certain families.
Alternately, magistrates and members of the council might be selected by co-optation, that is, by the existing office holders or somehow by other members of the oligarchy. Aristotle alludes to this (Pol. 4.1298b) and as Simonton (op. cit.) notes this seems to have been the practice in oligarchies in Massalia and Larissa, where ‘worthy’ members of the masses were pulled into the government, which of course gave the core oligarchic members a tool to reward collaborators and informants among the lower classes as well as to fill out key roles in their government.
The more subtle way of doing this might be to employ systems of elections which were prone to influence of subterfuge. Spartan elections in its ekklesia for the ephors and members of the gerousia, for instance, were done by acclamation; the spartiates would shout for the candidates they wanted and victory was judged by who got the loudest shouts when it was their turn. Absent modern decibel meters, this is a pretty error prone system and the pattern whereby the Spartan state tended to be dominated by its wealthiest families, arrayed around the hereditary kings suggests that the two royal families were perfectly capable of manipulating this very easy to manipulate system. Likewise, as Simonton notes (op. cit.), systems of open, non-anonymous voting were prone to abuse, especially in a polis where most of the wealth and power is already controlled by a relatively small clique who can see how individual members of the assembly vote and retaliate accordingly, which is indeed how the brief oligarchic government of the Four Hundred in Athens is able to ‘persuade’ the assembly to vote itself out of existence (Thuc. 8.66.2-4).
The other factor in the character of the government was the relationship between the constituent parts. As you may get the sense above, different parts of a polis government are likely to be dominated by different groups. Even in a constitution where offices are open to everyone, if they are elected they will tend to be dominated by the elite whose money and status can buy them votes,10 and that will of course carry over to any council that is made up of ex-magistrates, like the Cretan gerousia we just mentioned or the Athenian Areopagus (made up of former archons). Meanwhile the ekklesia, run on an one-man, one-vote system is going to tend to favor the demos, assuming a broad range of the citizenry is able to be present, because the middling and poor will so vastly outnumber the elite.11 But that can mean that the balance of power between these institutions can impact the democratic or oligarchic character of the state, even when a state has all of the institutions which might allow for a democratic or oligarchic system.
The key question here is generally the powers and competence of the ekklesia; in almost every polis the ekklesia was the final stop for confirming any law or decision, granting that decision the imprimatur of the whole demos and thus the legitimacy of a communal consensus decision. In a democratic polis, the ekklesia was likely to be supreme, with both broad powers to set its own agenda (or have its agenda set by a boule of randomly selected members of the ekklesia) and also broad powers to direct the magistrates and to punish any magistrates who refused to be so directed.
But if either of those links is broken, an oligarchy could ‘tame’ the ekklesia. The cleverer way to do this was through the agenda-setting power. The Spartan ekklesia, for instance, could only vote on laws put before them by the gerousia or the ephors and could only give a yes or no vote to those very decisions; it could not debate, nor propose alternative decisions. This sort of system, where an oligarchic body like a gerousia or another body of magistrates is able to use its agenda setting power to simply prevent any proposal that the oligarchy does not already approve from coming to a vote was common enough for Aristotle to note it as a common tool of oligarchy (Arist. Pol. 4.1298b).12 An oligarchy could thus ensure no radical proposal ever reached the ekklesia, while at the same time, tailoring its proposals to be just moderate enough to garner a majority of votes (under a system where, as noted above, chances are the oligarchs can ‘push’ fairly hard to get quite a lot of preference falsification), resulting in a government that is out of step with the popular will but still has that popular imprimatur; after all, there was a vote and we all agreed to this.
Alternately, the assembly could be cut out altogether, as in Boiotia, where decisions were made not between a council and an assembly, but rather each polis had four councils, all limited by wealth, which would deliberate seperately with laws that passed all four becoming valid, though this seems to have been a rare sort of structure as far as we can tell (Hell. Oxy 16.2-5, discussed in Simonton, op. cit. 81.)
The less clever and more blunt way to do this was to empower the magistrates and slant the courts, pulling both outside of the power of the ekklesia. For instance, by putting more power to judge and punish in the hands of the magistrates (or in the hands of juries composed of members of the elite), an oligarchy could gain the power to violently regulate the mass of the citizenry, destroying on trumped up charges anyone who seemed a threat (and once again, Aristotle notes this tactic, Pol. 4.1301a) and also refuse to punish its own members who engaged in extrajudicial violence to suppress the demos. At some point, for instance (presumably before the Cleisthenic reforms), the Athenian Areopagus (you will recall this is a council of ex-magistrates) had the power to watch for and punish the ‘disorderly’ (ἀκοσμοῦντες, a wonderfully broad term, Isoc. 7.46), a broad mandate to enact social control. The problem, of course, is that this kind of blatant display of oligarchic power might trigger a rising of the demos.
In practice it should be noted that most poleis seem to have been some mix of this. Athens’ relatively complete democracy and the relatively complete oligarchies of poleis like Sparta or Thebes may be more prominent in our sources (compounded by the tendency of writers like Aristotle to want to pick out extreme forms of each kind of government), but a lot of poleis will have had effectively mixed constitutions. But what if a polis wasn’t constitutional at all?
But What If I Was In Charge?
The normal expectation for Greek tyranny is that the system works like the Empire from Star Wars: A New Hope, where the new tyrant abolishes the Senate, appoints his own cronies to formal positions as rules and general makes himself Very Obviously and Formally In Charge. But this isn’t how tyranny generally worked: the tyrant was Very Obviously but not formally in charge, because he ruled extra-constitutonally, rather than abolishing the constitution. This is what seperates tyranny, a form of extra-constitutional one man rule, from monarchy, a form of traditional and thus constitutional one-man rule.
We see the fisrt major wave of tyrannies emerging in Greek poleis in the sixth century, although this is also about the horizon where we can see political developments generally in the Greek world, still our sources seem to understand this development to have been somewhat novel at the time and it is certainly tempting to see the emergence of tyranny and democracy in this period both as responses to the same sorts of pressures and fragility found in traditional polis oligarchies, but again our evidence is thin.13 Tyrants tend to come from the elite, oligarchic class and often utilize anti-oligarchic movements (civil strife or stasis, στάσις) to come to power.
Because most poleis are small, the amount of force a tyrant needed to seize power was also often small. Polycrates supposedly seized power in Samos with just fifteen soldiers (Hdt. 3.120), though we may doubt the truth of the report and elsewhere Herodotus notes that he did so in conspiracy with his two brothers of whom he killed one and banished the other (Hdt. 3.39). I’ve discussed Peisistratos’ takeover(s) in Athens before but they were similarly small-ball affairs. In Corinth, Cypselus seized power by using his position as polemarch (war leader) to have the army (which, remember, is going to be a collection of the non-elite but still well-to-do citizenry, although this is early enough that if I call it a hoplite phalanx I’ll have an argument on my hands) expel the Bacchiadae, a closed single-clan oligarchy. A move by any member of the elite to put together their own bodyguard (even one just armed with clubs) was a fairly clear indicator of an attempt to form a tyranny and the continued maintenence of a bodyguard was a staple of how the Greeks understood a tyrant.
Having seized power, those tyrants do not seem to have abolished key civic institutions: they do not disband the ekklesia or the law courts. Instead, the tyrant controls these things by co-opting the remaining elite families, using violence and the threat of violence against those who would resist and installing cronies in positions of power. Tyrants also seem to have bought a degree of public acquience from the demos by generally targeting the oligoi, as with Cypselus and his son Periander killing and banishing the elite Bacchiadae from Corinth (Hdt. 5.92). But this is a system of government where in practice the laws appeared to still be in force and the major institutions appeared to still be functioning but that in practice the tyrant, with his co-opted elites, armed bodyguard and well-rewarded cadre of followers among the demos, monopolized power. And it isn’t hard to see how the fiction of a functioning polis government could be a useful tool for a tyrant to maintain power.
That extra-constitutional nature of tyranny, where the tyrant exists outside of the formal political system (even though he may hold a formal office of some sort) also seems to have contributed to tyranny’s fragility. Thales was supposedly asked what the strangest thing he had ever seen was and his answer was, “An aged tyrant” (Diog. Laert. 1.6.36) and indeed tyranny was fragile. Tyrants struggled to hold power and while most seem to have tried to pass that power to an heir, few succeed; no tyrant ever achieves the dream of establishing a stable, monarchical dyasnty. Instead, tyrants tend to be overthrown, leading to a return to either democratic or oligarchic polis government, since the institutions of those forms of government remained.
Now, because this post is already long and my time is already short, next week we are going to turn and look at the other two elements of the polis government in more detail that have gotten rather short treatment today: the many magistracies that a polis might have as well as the general structure of the court system.
- Bonus points for those who realize that this structure, where the Senate votes, but one person has the extraconstitutional power to ignore the Senate and gets to shape the options it votes by means that our ACOUP polis is in fact a tyranny. Ollie and Percy are my club-wielding bodyguards!
- Eisangelia legal term often translated as ‘impeachment’ but which is better understood as a process to try cases of treason or subversion of the democracy (so the better translation here might be ‘denouncement’). Greek law is really complex and eisangelia is a particularly thorny issue in Athenian law, so we’ll leave it aside for this blog post. The monograph treatment of the topic is M.H. Hansen, Eisangelia: the sovereignty of the people’s court in Athens in the fourth century BC and the impeachment of generals and politicians (1975), but I have to say I differ with Hansen’s treatment on several points and in any event that is not an easy book to get a hold of unless you have access to a university library.
- As was done on Crete but not in Sparta, see Arist. Pol. 2.1272a
- I keep mentioning Kyrene because it is unusual in that it gives us a written constitution, dated to 322 when it was revised by Ptolomy I Soter after the death of Alexander, giving a top-down view on the structure of its government.
- Another difference from the Roman model here, it is typically the board that acts; the strategoi collectively have the power to command the armies, not any individual strategos on his own. By contrast each of the two Roman consuls is fully vested, individually with the powers of the consul (called imperium) and does not need to consult their colleague in order to act. Even when you have, for instance, ten Roman quaestors, they do not function as a board, but rather each functions as an individual empowered individually to make decisions.
- Unless we define the Spartan helots as public slaves.
- By contrast I feel the need to note that clerical officials t Rome, the apparitores, were paid civil servants who had their own collegiae (guilds, more or less). That’s not to say Roman officials didn’t make use of a lot of slave labor – they absolutely did – but that even in the republic there was some space for a non-enslaved civil service, although I should note it was quite minimal in the republic.
- The process by which the Athenian democracy emerged is fairly well documented in our sources and one of the sets of changes was the steady expansion of eligibility to participate in the polis to poorer citizens, first in Solon’s constitution of c. 594 which created what we might regard as a weak or open oligarchy and then the reforms of Cleisthenes in 508, which begins the democracy. The full flower of Athenian democratic institutions come in the back half of the 400s, funded in no small part by the tribute of the Delian League (soon to be the Athenian Empire), creating one of the enduring ironies of the Athenian democracy that its most democratic expression relied on the oppression of other Greeks to be funded. That said, after the collapse of the Athenian Empire, Athens was essentially faced with a problem of either scrapping the democracy (because enabling wide civic participation was expensive) or ceasing to be a first rate military power and chose the latter, sacrificing the navy on the altar of its democratic institutions. David Pritchard goes into this trade off in more depth in Public Spending and Democracy in Classical Athens (2015).
- ‘Close oligarchy’ is a common translation, though Aristotle later defines what he means (4.1292b) that a dunasteia is form of oligarchy specifically in which the magistracies are hereditary and wield disproportionate power in the state.
- If not directly than indirectly by enabling those people to do various prominent things in the state, like rebuilding public buildings, sponsoring plays and so on.
- Watch for a future series on how the Romans take their assemblies and explicitly weight them by wealth to avoid this very problem.
- As an aside, this is exactly how the assemblies of the Roman Republic worked: they could only vote on laws proposed by magistrates.
- Simonton tries to push back on this notion of oligarchy-first, democracy-second, instead trying to frame oligarchy as a response to democracy. I think he is right that the more formal and repressive oligarchies we see in in the better documented fifth and fourth centuries are responding to the threat the emergence of democracy posed to the oligarchs, but this still raises the question of what sort of government those poleis would have had in the sixth century and the evidence seems to clearly suggest the answer is just oligarchy. So it might be better to say that the emergence of democracy forced evolutions in the practice of oligarchy, but the basic oligarchy-first, democracy-second narrative seems right to me.